York’s mature and part-time students find their voice

There used to be a certain stigma in being described as a mature or part-time student. When the majority of a university’s population are full-time students under the age of 24, mature or part-time students can feel isolated because they do not have a voice. Not so at York University. Building on its long history of offering courses and meeting the needs of mature and part-time students, York has opened a new centre specifically geared to the unique needs of mature and part-time students.

The Atkinson Centre for Mature & Part-time Students (ACMAPS), located in Central Square on York’s Keele campus, celebrated its official opening on Nov. 5. Among the guests hosted by Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, York’s associate vice-president academic learning initiatives and the new director of ACMAPS, were York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and Charles Pascal, executive director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation.

Above: From left, Charles Pascal, Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt and Mamdouh Shoukri

As the work environment changes, many people are re-entering the postsecondary environment to continue their education, follow a dream or retrain in a new profession. In 2006, 25 per cent of the student body at York University fit into the over-25 age demographic. Created to provide a voice for the growing numbers of mature and part-time students, ACMAPS provides a physical and philosophical home for these students while they are at York University. Staff include associate director Matthew Peattie, student adviser Edward Fenner and administrative coordinator Lan Yu. As awareness of the centre grows, more advisers will be added.

Although small at the moment, the centre has a mighty heart based in York’s long history of accessibility established by Atkinson College and later, the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.

"Atkinson’s traditional mandate was to meet the needs of mature and part-time students and the Faculty structured its programs and services so that part-time and mature students could study and complete their degrees through evening and summer course offerings," said Fisher-Stitt in her introductory remarks at the opening.

Above: From left, Lan Yu, Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, Edward Fenner and Matthew Peattie

In recent years, Fisher-Stitt said. the student demographics in Atkinson, as well as the other Faculties, have changed in that all Faculties have students studying part-time, as well as full-time, and all Faculties have students whose access to courses requires more flexible course offerings: daytime, evenings, weekend and summer.

It was in response to this changing demographic in mind that ACMAPS was created, said Fisher-Stitt. "We are a pan-University centre with a mandate to raise awareness of the issues that affect mature and part-time students."

The centre will lead and facilitate initiatives to respond to the special needs of mature and part-time students and will advocate on their behalf.

Although only in existence since August, the centre has already been involved in a number of events, said Fisher-Stitt. These include a University-wide orientation in August for mature and part-time students, special introductory sessions to the York Libraries, several student open house sessions, a series of lunchtime drop-in sessions, and working with York’s Learning Skills Program to offer exam preparation sessions designed for mature students. ACMAPS has also worked with the Atkinson Essay Tutoring Centre to provide access to non-Atkinson mature and part-time students and has provided the venue for the first session in this year’s York University Mature Students Organization speaker series, which took place earlier this term.

"We will continue to work with existing York student support services, the colleges and Faculties to ensure that mature and part-time students have access to all the support and services they need to make their York experience rewarding and successful," said Fisher-Stitt. "ACMAPS confirms York University’s commitment to access and social justice."

Long-term goals for the centre include helping prospective students come to York, advocacy for mature and part-time students while they are at the University  as well as facilitating and conducting research into the educational strengths, needs and challenges of this student population.

In his remarks at the centre’s official opening, Charles Pascal, executive director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, spoke of the history of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, established in 1942 by Joseph E. Atkinson, former publisher of The Toronto Star newspaper. Pascal observed that Atkinson’s personal commitment to create a just, equitable, safe and healthy society for every citizen, no matter what their circumstances, was congruent with the creation of ACMAPS.

Right: Charles Pascal addresses ACMAPS guests at the centre’s official opening on Nov. 5

In offering his support for the development of ACMAPS, Pascal said, "York University has always been a place that tried to be better in terms of access. York has a long history with the Atkinson Charitable Foundation. What York has done with the Atkinson legacy completely fulfills the foundation’s vision of accessibility, enabling learning to happen, and meeting the needs of students."

York’s President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri reinforced Pascal’s comments. "York has a heritage of diversity and a commitment to access to learning," said Shoukri.

"There are many different aspects to diversity, along with colour, culture and language – York has more than 170 different countries represented in its student body," said Shoukri. "Other aspects of diversity include the experience and different perspective that mature and part-time students bring to the University."

"Mature and part-time students have always brought a different dimension to the student body and York will continue to build on that part of its heritage," said Shoukri.

For more information on the centre, including hours, events and staff profiles, visit the ACMAPS Web site.